I’m going to quote a Bruce Springsteen lyric, and I couldn’t resist. I was thinking about this last night while watching the new St. Louis ace do his thing, taking over the virtually abandoned ballpark in Oakland and taking control of the team that inhabits it.

I’m waitin’, waitin’ on a sunny day
Gonna chase the clouds away
Waitin’ on a sunny day

And Sonny (Day) Gray was worth waiting for. His minor hamstring was just an insignificant interruption that delayed his debut as the St. Louis No. 1 starting pitcher. This is what an ace is supposed to look like. We hadn’t seen one around here in a while, not since age began to creep in and slowly form rust on Adam Wainwright.

In his first start for St. Louis, back on April 9 at Busch Stadium, Gray buzzed and swept through the Philadelphia Phillies over five shutout innings to keynote a 3-0 win. The only thing that stopped Gray was a precautionary pitch count.

After two bad losses at Arizona, the Cardinals were in need of a confidence-restoring presence and a quality start. They turned to Gray, who gave them more than they hoped for. He swiftly took care of business with his edgy, elastic efficiency.

According to the pitch tracking at Brooks Baseball, Gray bedazzled the A’s with 16 four-seam fastballs, 16 sliders, 15 cutters, 11 sinkers, nine curves, and five changeups.

Gray threw everything at Oakland except an eephus pitch. From our memory banks, he channeled some Chris Carpenter, some Waino, some Matt Morris, and a little Jeff Suppan and Woody Williams. He’s a hardcore competitor with an intense personality, a rich variety of pitches, and the finesse of an artisan. He can delicately paint corners, modify the shapes of his pitches, or grunt and throw the rock past hitters.

Gray’s pitch allotment was filled after six shutout innings that set up a suspense-free 3-1 victory for the visiting Cardinals.

How effective was Gray?

He left Cardinals fans with nothing to complain about. And that’s almost impossible to do these days.

Staying up late on a Monday night to watch Gray pitch was a worthy investment of time. Yawning wasn’t an option. Whining was put on mute. Gray got an “A” for putting the A’s down with a pitching-clinic showcase. He almost made us forget that St. Louis hitters scored their usual three runs. That was OK. That was more than enough.

And to add extra meaning and sweetness to Monday’s start, Gray was in his finest form against the team that drafted him. And he started in his original major-league home, returning after making 112 starts for the A’s over five-plus seasons.

“This is the team that drafted me, this is the team that gave me a shot, it’s the team that believed in me. These are the fans who helped shape my career, and I always enjoy coming back here. I love it,” Gray said after his Monday-night gem.

I mentioned Gray’s intensity. What I appreciate is how he generates that internal heat without wasting energy or distracting himself. Gray has the unbreakable focus of a diamond cutter.

In his first two starts for the Cardinals, Gray has pitched 11 innings of blank spaces on the scoreboard. No runs. No walks. Only nine hits. Command of the strike zone. A lot of soft contact. An impressive 28.2 percent strikeout rate. A 2-0 record.

I did a search on StatHead (via Baseball Reference) and this was what I discovered …

Gray became the first Cardinal starter in franchise history to open his career with a 2-0 record and at least 11 shutout innings in his first two starts of the season. Jordan Montgomery did it for the Cardinals in the summer of 2022, but his two dynamic starts came after the trading deadline.

In 2022 Monty had already made 21 starts for the Yankees before the trade that put him in St. Louis. Gray did this for the Cardinals in the first month of a new season, during his team’s first 17 games on the schedule, and after he’d been signed to a three-year, $75 million contract that put extra pressure on his pitching challenge. Monty wasn’t viewed as a No. 1 starter, and he wasn’t recruited as a free agent. The Gray scenario was different.

Kyle Lohse began his St. Louis career in 2008 with two starts that spanned 12 shutout innings – but the Cardinals didn’t win both games. They went 1-1. (Not that it was Lohshe’s fault.)

The 2024 Cardinals won both of Gray’s first two starts, and that separates him from Lohse by just a little.

Given the considerable expectations, the ace status, the money, the injury and delay, and the importance of a rebound season for a Cardinals franchise that staggered to 91 losses in 2023 – the stakes are higher for Gray. And that matters. Gray was the centerpiece of their offseason strategy to rebuild a hideous starting rotation, and a lot comes with the gig. He’s off to a special start. He’s doing what the Cardinals hoped for.

“Sonny was Sonny,” Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said after Monday’s game. “You knew he was going to be somewhat limited from a physical standpoint, but you don’t hand out $75 million and not get a guy that can do what he did tonight.”

I’m waitin’, waitin’ on a sunny day
Gonna chase the clouds away
Waitin’ on a sunny day

WHERE THE BOYS ARE: The Cardinals are 8-9 and trail co-leaders Milwaukee and Pittsburgh by three games in the NL Central … the Cards are 22nd overall and 13th in the National League with an average of 3.76 runs scored per game … the Redbirds are doing well at preventing runs; their average of 4.18 runs allowed per game is tied for 7th overall and tied for 2nd in the NL.

THREE RUNS AGAIN: For only the third time in 11 chances, the Cardinals on Monday won a game despite scoring three or fewer runs. So far in 2024 the Redbirds have been held to no more than three runs in 68.7 percent of their games. Two of the team’s three wins in low-scoring games came from Sonny Gray, and the other belonged to Steven Matz.

In their three wins with limited run support, Gray and Matz did not give up a run in 16 innings. And that’s about the only way you can prevail when the offense generates three or fewer runs in a game.

The Cardinals are 3-9 this season when scoring four runs or less. But when they supply five or more runs in a game, the Cardinals are 5-0. Trouble is, 23 teams have produced at least 5 runs in a game more often than the Cardinals in 2024.

ROTATION CHECK: Gray, Lance Lynn and Matz have combined for eight starts this season and have a 1.58 ERA collectively. The other three starters – Miles Mikolas, Kyle Gibson and Zack Thompson – have a 6.17 ERA in eight combined starts. Overall, the Cardinals’ 4.17 starting-pitching ERA is tied for 15th overall. Their fielding independent ERA is 4.60 which ranks 28th … Home runs allowed as a starter: Gibson 5, Thompson 4, Lynn 3, Mikolas 2 … Gray and Matz haven’t given up a HR … Lynn and Matz will start the final two games of the Oakland series.

THE BULLPEN IS A PLUS: No, the crew isn’t flawless. Giovanny Gallegos (5.40 ERA) and Andre Pallante (6.43 ERA) have gotten bopped around. And there have been some disappointments in high–leverage situations. But all things considered, the Cards’ bullpen work through 17 games is admirable. Because of the St. Louis front office and advisor Chaim Bloom, the bullpen performance is significantly improved from 2023.

Here are some of the positives:

* STL’s bullpen ERA of 3.39 currently ranks 10th best among the 30 teams.

* The pen’s 3.43 fielding independent ERA ranks seventh best in the majors.

* Cardinal relievers have a 29 percent strikeout rate that’s No. 1 in the National League and second overall. The same is true of their strikeouts (11.0) per nine innings.

* The bullpen’s ground-ball rate (53.9%) is tops in the majors.

* Ryan Helsley, Andrew Kittredge, JoJo Romero, Zack Thompson, Ryan Fernandez and Matthew Liberatore have teamed up to face 165 batters over 41 and ⅓ innings; they’ve combined for a 2.39 ERA and a 30.3% strikeout rate.

* Save-related stats can be overrated. That said, the Cardinals have bagged seven saves in nine opportunities for a 78 percent save rate that ranks fifth in the majors. Last season the St. Louis save rate (56%) was tied for 24th.

* Last season the St. Louis bullpen posted a 4.47 ERA that ranked 23rd overall and 13th in the NL. And the relievers’ strikeout rate (22.2%) was 24th overall and 13th in the NL.


And there were some things to like.

1. Masyn Winn. Of course. He returned to the lineup after Sunday’s scheduled day off and went two for three with a walk. The rookie shortstop is now hitting .370 on the season. Winn made an excellent play by diving to his left in front of the bag to swipe-tag the runner (Zack Gelof) attempting to steal second base in the 2nd inning. Smart, instinctive, aggressive, acrobatic. In his last nine games Winn is 12 for 30 (.400) with a .438 OBP and .600 slug. His 32 plate appearances over the nine-game roll have netted two triples, two doubles, two walks, a steal, three runs and four RBIs.

In his at-bats when being used as a shortstop – excluding pinch-hitting – Winn’s .378 batting average is second to Mookie Betts (.396) among MLB shortstops. The Cardinals have a winning record (7-6) when Winn starts at short. And when he’s the starter, Winn is batting .386 with a .404 OBP and .524 slug.

2. Nolan Arenado: Warming trend! In his last four games Arenado is 7 for 17 (.412) with a .706 slug, two doubles, a homer, and four RBIs. That’s part of an encouraging 10-game stretch in which Arenado is batting .341 with five extra-base hits, six RBIs and a .512 slug. Monday night the third baseman went 2 for 5 with a double and a first-inning, two-out single that scored Paul Goldschmidt for a 1-0 lead.

2a. Arenado’s “Clutch” hitting: He’s hitting .311 and slugging .611 this season when batting with runners in scoring position. (That’s produced all nine of his RBIs this season.) He’s 4 for 9 in “late and close” situations, and 4 for 10 with RISP and two outs.

3. Willson Contreras: the proud catcher had two doubles in four at-bats with a RBI and run scored. He also nailed a runner on a steal attempt. On the season, WC is batting .286 with a .400 OBP and .524 slug, four doubles, two homers and 5 RBIs.

4. Jordan Walker: It may not seem like much, but Monday’s two-out RBI single in the sixth gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead. And Walker, who is off to an awful start, needed this. It was a nice piece of hitting, with the right-handed hitting Walker eyeing the vast open space on the right side and drilling the single through the vacancy. It was only Walker’s third RBI of the season; maybe this will get him going.

5. Lars Nootbaar: He had a very good night, going 1 for 3 with a double and a run scored. His well executed sac bunt in the first moved Goldschmidt from first base to second and in position to score on Arenado’s single. Nootbaar has been a busy hitter in his first four games since returning from the injured list. In 17 plate appearances Noot has three hits and four walks for a .438 onbase percentage. He’s also homered and doubled, knocked in three runs, scored two runs and slugged .538.

6. Oli Marmol: The manager rearranged his batting order by moving Nootbaar into the No. 3 spot, keeping Arenado at cleanup, posting Contreras in the five slot and sliding Nolan Gorman to sixth. Marmol also moved Winn to seventh in batting order, with Walker batting eighth. I know the Cardinals scored only three runs, but Marmol’s modified lineup had a better look.

The No. 2 through No. 5 spots had five hits in 14 at-bats (.357) with a walk, four doubles, two RBIs, an important sac bunt, and three runs scored. The No. 7 and No. 8 spots came through with three hits in six at-bats (.500) with a double, a walk and an RBI.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.